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Saturday, February 25, 2006

War of the Worlds - New York Times

War of the Worlds - New York TimesFebruary 24, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
War of the Worlds

Since 9/11, whenever the Bush team has found itself in political trouble, it has played the national security card against Democrats. It has worked so well that Karl Rove, in a recent speech to the Republican National Committee, made it a campaign theme for 2006.

He said America today faces "a ruthless enemy" and therefore needs "a commander in chief and a Congress who understand the nature of the threat and the gravity of the moment America finds itself in. President Bush and the Republican Party do. Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for many Democrats."

Mr. Rove added: "Republicans have a post-9/11 worldview, and many Democrats have a pre-9/11 worldview. That doesn't make them unpatriotic — not at all. But it does make them wrong — deeply and profoundly and consistently wrong."

I particularly like the line "that doesn't make them unpatriotic," when that was exactly the political slur Mr. Rove was trying to implant.

So I understand why Democrats were eager to turn the soft-on-terrorism card back on President Bush when it was revealed that P&O, the navigation company based in London — which has been managing the ports of New York, New Jersey, Baltimore, New Orleans, Miami and Philadelphia — had been bought by Dubai Ports World, a company owned by the Dubai monarchy in the United Arab Emirates, an Arab Gulf state, and that the Bush team had approved the Dubai takeover of the U.S. port operations.

I also understand why many Republicans are now running away from the administration. They know that if they don't distance themselves from Mr. Bush, some Democrats are going to play this very evocative, very visual "giving away our ports to the Arabs" card against them in the coming elections. Yes, you reap what you sow.

But while I have zero sympathy for the political mess in which the president now finds himself, I will not join this feeding frenzy. On the pure merits of this case, the president is right. The port deal should go ahead. Congress should focus on the N.S.A. wiretapping. Not this.

As a country, we must not go down this road of global ethnic profiling — looking for Arabs under our beds the way we once looked for commies. If we do — if America, the world's beacon of pluralism and tolerance, goes down that road — we will take the rest of the world with us. We will sow the wind and we will reap the whirlwind.

If there were a real security issue here, I'd join the critics. But the security argument is bogus and, I would add, borderline racist. Many U.S. ports are run today by foreign companies, but the U.S. Coast Guard still controls all aspects of port security, entry and exits; the U.S. Customs Service is still in charge of inspecting the containers; and U.S. longshoremen still handle the cargos.

The port operator simply oversees the coming and going of ships, making sure they are properly loaded and offloaded in the most cost-effective manner. As my colleague David E. Sanger reported: "Among the many problems at American ports, said Stephen E. Flynn, a retired Coast Guard commander who is an expert on port security at the Council on Foreign Relations, 'who owns the management contract ranks near the very bottom.' "

What ranks much higher for me is the terrible trend emerging in the world today: Sunnis attacking Shiite mosques in Iraq, and vice versa. Danish caricatures of the Prophet Muhammad, and violent Muslim protests, including Muslims killing Christians in Nigeria and then Christians killing Muslims. And today's Washington Post story about how some overzealous, security-obsessed U.S. consul in India has created a huge diplomatic flap — on the eve of Mr. Bush's first visit to India — by denying one of India's most respected scientists a visa to America on the grounds that his knowledge of chemistry might be a threat. The U.S. embassy in New Delhi has apologized.

My point is simple: the world is drifting dangerously toward a widespread religious and sectarian cleavage — the likes of which we have not seen for a long, long time. The only country with the power to stem this toxic trend is America.

People across the world still look to our example of pluralism, which is like no other. If we go Dark Ages, if we go down the road of pitchfork-wielding xenophobes, then the whole world will go Dark Ages.

There is a poison loose today, and America — America at its best — is the only antidote. That's why it is critical that we stand by our principles of free trade and welcome the world to do business in our land, as long as there is no security threat. If we start exporting fear instead of hope, we are going to import everyone else's fears right back. That is not a world you want for your kids.

Empty Pockets, Angry Minds - New York Times

Empty Pockets, Angry Minds - New York TimesFebruary 22, 2006
Op-Ed Columnist
Empty Pockets, Angry Minds


I have no doubt that the Danish cartoons mocking the Prophet Muhammad have caused real offense to many Muslims. I'm glad my newspaper didn't publish them. But there is something in the worldwide Muslim reaction to these cartoons that is excessive, and suggests that something else is at work in this story. It's time we talked about it.

To understand this Danish affair, you can't just read Samuel Huntington's classic, "The Clash of Civilizations." You also need to read Karl Marx, because this explosion of Muslim rage is not just about some Western insult. It's also about an Eastern failure. It is about the failure of many Muslim countries to build economies that prepare young people for modernity — and all the insult, humiliation and frustration that has produced.

Today's world has become so wired together, so flattened, that you can't avoid seeing just where you stand on the planet — just where the caravan is and just how far ahead or behind you are. In this flat world you get your humiliation fiber-optically, at 56K or via broadband, whether you're in the Muslim suburbs of Paris or Kabul. Today, Muslim youth are enraged by cartoons in Denmark. Earlier, it was a Newsweek story about a desecrated Koran. Why? When you're already feeling left behind, even the tiniest insult from afar goes to the very core of your being — because your skin is so thin.

India is the second-largest Muslim country in the world, but the cartoon protests here, unlike those in Pakistan, have been largely peaceful. One reason for the difference is surely that Indian Muslims are empowered and live in a flourishing democracy. India's richest man is a Muslim software entrepreneur. But so many young Arabs and Muslims live in nations that have deprived them of any chance to realize their full potential.

The Middle East Media Research Institute, called Memri, just published an analysis of the latest employment figures issued by the U.N.'s International Labor Office. The I.L.O. study, Memri reported, found that "the Middle East and North Africa stand out as the region with the highest rate of unemployment in the world": 13.2 percent. That is worse than in sub-Saharan Africa.

While G.D.P. in the Middle East-North Africa region registered an annual increase of 5.5 percent from 1993 to 2003, productivity, the measure of how efficiently these resources were used, increased by only about 0.1 percent annually — better than only one region, sub-Saharan Africa.

The Arab world is the only area in the world where productivity did not increase with G.D.P. growth. That's because so much of the G.D.P. growth in this region was driven by oil revenues, not by educating workers to do new things with new technologies.

Nearly 60 percent of the Arab world is under the age of 25. With limited job growth to absorb them, the I.L.O. estimates, the region is spinning out about 500,000 more unemployed people each year. At a time when India and China are focused on getting their children to be more scientific, innovative thinkers, educational standards in much of the Muslim world — particularly when it comes to science and critical inquiry — are not keeping pace.

Pervez Hoodbhoy, a professor of nuclear physics at Quaid-i-Azam University in Islamabad, Pakistan, bluntly wrote the following in Global Agenda 2006, the journal of the recent Davos World Economic Forum:

"Pakistan's public (and all but a handful of private) universities are intellectual rubble, their degrees of little consequence. ... According to the Pakistan Council for Science and Technology, Pakistanis have succeeded in registering only eight patents internationally in 57 years. ...

"[Today] you seldom encounter a Muslim name in scientific journals. Muslim contributions to pure and applied science — measured in terms of discoveries, publications, patents and processes — are marginal. ... The harsh truth is that science and Islam parted ways many centuries ago. In a nutshell, the Muslim experience consists of a golden age of science from the ninth to the 14th centuries, subsequent collapse, modest rebirth in the 19th century, and a profound reversal from science and modernity, beginning in the last decades of the 20th century. This reversal appears, if anything, to be gaining speed."

No wonder so many young people in this part of the world are unprepared, and therefore easily enraged, as they encounter modernity. And no wonder backward religious leaders and dictators in places like Syria and Iran — who have miserably failed their youth — are so quick to turn their young people's anger against an insulting cartoon and away from themselves and the rot they have wrought.

Sunday, February 19, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Warriors drown out the voices of reason in Islam

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Warriors drown out the voices of reason in IslamWarriors drown out the voices of reason in Islam

During the 1960s a white Southerner made me aware of a problem that now seems to be common to the complexity faced by modern people of many different societies and religions: The loose screws among them have come to represent the entire group.

Forty years ago, the white Southerner said to me that all of the televised redneck violence in reaction to the civil rights movement had made his Southern accent a social liability. Northern white people tended to assume, once they heard his accent, that he supported the Ku Klux Klan, had probably brutalized a black man and could easily have taken advantage of a black woman, who might be the mother of his unacknowledged child!

It took them a while to discover that he was a supporter of the civil rights movement who had to leave the South because his opinions endangered the safety of his wife and children.

I am sure that this problem is now felt in what one Muslim scholar calls "liberal Islam." I encountered the term while reading material written by Radman Masmoudi, founder and president of the Washington-based Center for the Study of Islam and Democracy, a nonprofit think tank. Masmoudi, from Tunisia, has a degree from MIT in robotics and automation, and is an advanced control engineer. He is also the editor in chief of his think tank's publication, Muslim Democrat, and president of the Tunisian Scientific Society.

So he's been around. But there is much to be learned from reading his 2003 piece "The Silenced Majority," from the Journal of Democracy, about the battle between secular and religious extremists. "Between these two extremes," he writes, "we find the majority of the people, who want to practice their religion faithfully, but who also want to live in the modern age - i.e., they want a modern, moderate and appropriate interpretation of Islam."

Masmoudi does not see this happening overnight but is sure that the first thing that must come about is the freedom to debate issues and to criticize Islamic governments and policies, a basic tenet of democracy. This sort of freedom exists under neither secular nor religious Islamic governments, both of which tend to take the position that it will be their way or "the highway."

"The reformation of Islam," writes Masmoudi, "will require freedom and democracy, and right now the only place where we have them is in the West."

We should not be naive about a reformation taking place within the Islamic world next week, next month, or next year, even in the next decade. But neither should we be prematurely cynical about liberal Islam. All we are actually talking about are things we take for granted, such as free speech, freedom of the press and a diversity of freely expressed opinion.

When we look at the most conservative versions of Islam, we can easily understand why all of those freedoms were hard to come by at certain points in Western democratic history.

But when we realize that the conception of liberal Islam is being championed by an award-winning scientist who observes his religion in ways he considers rational, we can have faith in what Masmoudi represents and set aside some of our most hysterical reactions to the massive stereotyping that always arrives in times of war.

Warriors are only interested in, understandably, the nuances of command and performance in battle. But recognition that humanity always means endless nuance is a foundation of democracy. Masmoudi says the majority of those in the Muslim world want what we know as freedom, and do not believe their religion is threatened by it.

Let us hope that he is right, so that some of us may live to see that old saying become true in the Islamic world: it is always darkest before dawn.

Originally published on February 12, 2006

Thursday, February 16, 2006

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Free speech will win

New York Daily News - Stanley Crouch - Stanley Crouch: Free speech will winFree speech will win

Tech renaissance forces the East to take a far West turn

The problem that faces the Chinese at the moment is how the issue of free speech and free access will be resolved in the face of extraordinarily sophisticated technology.

It seems now that the Chinese have underestimated the power of information and the addiction to varied perspectives that it can create in the masses once they have been exposed to even the smallest amount of it.

This was not always true.

Once upon a time, it was clearly understood that information was the enemy of any regime built on repression.

Totalitarian leaders dared not be compared with the supposed decadent exploitation of the capitalist world.

When Soviet officials could no longer keep information out because those who were supposed to maintain revolutionary morale began to do international work that required travel, they started to see how far their Marxist state was falling behind the West. Then, morale began to fade, and cynicism and disregard began to build. That has not yet happened to the Chinese, but it will come down in its own way, and we can be sure that way will be the result of information.

We now see elected officials in Washington getting all bent out of shape because Google, Yahoo!, Microsoft and Cisco are willing to submit to the Chinese demand for censorship in order to gain access to what is becoming perhaps the biggest single market in the world.

Such is capitalism, or the most basic and crude version of it.

Right now, it is quite easy to see that big Internet companies submitting to totalitarian demands must deepen the contempt the purist Chinese Marxists have for capitalism and the ease and the speed with which it will set aside its principles to make a buck. But what the Chinese President Hu Jintao must realize is that you threaten the order if you let even a little air in. Never lift your foot off of the people's neck; they will then become obsessed with standing up. Some already are standing up. Uh-oh.

For now, the Chinese seem to believe that they can manhandle capitalism, bending its rules of conduct whichever way they want, and duck the Western blues by making money with one hand but repressing free speech and access to information with the other. That will only work for so long. As one writer, Taylor Dinerman, said to me, "The Chinese people can get access to whatever they want through their satellite phones and have been able to do so for at least seven years."

In other words, it is all or nothing at all. Eventually, if they are lucky, the Chinese will be in the same struggle that we find ourselves in: how to keep at bay the overweening decadence of immeasurable pornography, misogyny, narcissism and all of those appetites satisfied by ever-cheaper thrills. That, as much as anything else, is what comes with our technology. It offers the same beauty and the same horror to the entire world.

Originally published on February 16, 2006

Saturday, February 04, 2006

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Bush's good deed for minorities

New York Daily News - News & Views Columnists - Stanley Crouch: Bush's good deed for minoritiesBush's good deed for minorities

It is more than a bit ironic that President Bush is out ahead of the civil rights establishment and its friends who spend more time crying crocodile tears for monsters like the recently executed Tookie Williams than they do addressing the issue of education. It is odd because education always has the greatest chance to close performance and income gaps between our country's majority and our minorities.

The President has not been playing around in that area, but the men around him often leave the President with egg on his face. Bush appointee Michael Brown was so incompetent as the head of FEMA during Hurricane Katrina that it was easy for many to take a rapper seriously when he said that Bush didn't care about black people.

Now New Orleans lays in the waste left by the rage of nature and the $600 million earmarked for aid to New Orleans is log-jammed in our federal bureaucracy. Such things could easily lead one to suspect Bush's intentions, and they provide the best defense for the President.

Bush has the elephants preparing to put into law a measure that would provide low-income students with grants to aid them in their college education if they do well in math, science and the other technological fields considered important if our country is to compete in the global economy. The measure stretches over five years and the tab is $3.75 billion, providing grants to students while assessing the academic strengths and weaknesses of our 18,000 public high schools.

As Sol Stern wrote in the Manhattan Institute's publication, City Journal, this all began with the President's No Child Left Behind program, which promoted scientific ways of improving reading skills when Bush was governor of Texas, making use of the expertise of Dr. Reid Lyon of the National Institute of Health beginning in 1995.

"The National Reading Panel, commissioned by Congress, concluded in 2000 that effective reading programs, especially for kids living in poverty, required phonic-based instruction," wrote Stern.

Within a week of taking his seat in the Oval Office, Bush put a $6 billion Reading First phonics program in the balance. This led to a boom in national education since federal funds could be turned down - but if they were accepted, the schools were held accountable for higher performance.

The plan worked. Between 2003 and 2005, fourth-graders posted the best reading and math scores on the National Assessment of Educational Progress in the test's history. Minority children, especially, are closing the performance gap.

President Bush may take a hard paddling in history for his handling of the war in Iraq, the torture of prisoners at Guantanamo Bay, the eavesdropping on American citizens, and what some consider the worst examples of cronyism since Grant was President. But like the dung hosed off of a man dipped in sewage, his record on education could clean him up and make him one of the most important and forward-thinking Presidents in our history.

Originally published on January 29, 2006

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Oprah revenge served warm

New York Daily News - Ideas & Opinions - Stanley Crouch: Oprah revenge served warmOprah revenge served warm

Oprah Winfrey, American queen of goodwill, had a barbecue for millions on her show last week. She was not serving sausage, chicken or beef; the meat on the pit was our most famous recent con man and liar, the author James Frey. He had become a millionaire because Winfrey's book club had chosen his book, which immediately shot to the top of the nonfiction charts. But it was not what it was supposed to be and neither was the man himself.

Frey presented himself in what was supposed to be a memoir as a roughneck who had been addicted to drugs and alcohol and had terrible experiences, including time in jail. His lies were exposed by and Winfrey defended Frey when he appeared on "The Larry King Show."

But as the stack of evidence and the criticism began to become more impressive, Winfrey called him out when she could have easily stonewalled.

Winfrey is the most powerful woman in the U.S., but she also is one of the most responsible. Her admission that she was duped and that she made a mistake defending a pack of lies is further proof of why she remains so highly respected. One does not expect her level of integrity from your average billionaire.

So it was surprising to see that Winfrey was so hurt by Frey and so disappointed in herself that she had to make him heel on her show. Some said that we saw a host far different from what her audience is accustomed to viewing. Her reputation comes from being an enthusiast and an empathizer. But she was on the attack and James Frey felt it.

Or did he? All Frey had to do was sit there for an hour and be called a liar and listen to his publisher, Nan Talese, pretend - against all documentation - that everyone was confused and unaware that Frey was a lying sack of dung. After those minor embarrassments, our millionaire author could count on what amounted to everyone's goodwill toward him. All of the invited commentators agreed, finally, that this admission of monumental fudging of the facts was the first step in his coming to terms with the truth.

Ever a con man, Frey had told Winfrey during a break that if there was a gun backstage he would end it all! Yikes. He was just fishing; she took the bait and said that it wasn't worth all of that. Of course, it wasn't. It was worth a very large fraud to the tune of a few million dollars.

If she were a little more angry about making a liar a rich man, Winfrey could have rhetorically squashed his head. But if she was that rough and tumble, she wouldn't be Oprah Winfrey, which is part of her appeal and part of her strength. She was hurt, she was mad, but she couldn't even be reasonably cruel. That's our queen of goodwill. Yes, she had a barbecue, but the meat, in the final analysis, wasn't as well cooked as it could have been.

Originally published on February 2, 2006